In a setback to reform, the board of the Seattle police guild has voted to reject a tentative labor contract with the city seen as an opportunity to enact new accountability measures for officers.
In a setback to police reform, the board of the Seattle police guild has voted to reject a tentative labor contract with the city seen as a key opportunity to enact new accountability measures for officers, according to three sources briefed on the confidential talks.
The board’s vote Monday, which blocked the tentative contract from going to the full membership of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) for a vote, appeared to dash hopes of the City Council’s voting on a contract before a newly formed council is seated next month.
It also left unclear where negotiations are headed in what has been viewed as a major opportunity for the city to bolster disciplinary and appeal rules for officers and give Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole more management authority.
The rejection also left Detective Ron Smith, the guild’s president, in an awkward position, having reached the tentative accord with the city only to have his board vote down the contract.
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“The board is a relic of the past,” said one source, describing the vote as a reflection of a split between SPOG’s new and old guard.
A fourth person briefed on the board vote attributed the outcome to concerns over changes in work rules and management rights rather than resistance to accountability measures related to the disciplinary process.
The guild’s last four-year contractexpired at the end of 2014, with the terms still applying as the two sides have been talking for months about a new contract between the city and about 1,250 officers and sergeants represented by the union.
Details about proposed reforms and financial terms have not been disclosed.
Some police-accountability measures have been pushed by the Community Police Commission, a 15-member civilian body created as part of a court-ordered federal consent decree requiring the city to adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing cited in a Justice Department investigation.
Smith, who took over as guild president in 2014, has been viewed as a progressive leader willing to consider change.
But the guild’s 14-member board includes some longtime members resistant to change, one source said.
Smith declined to comment Wednesday.
“At the outset of these … negotiations, both the SPOG negotiations team and the City’s negotiations team signed a Confidentiality Agreement,” he said in an email. “This organization will honor the Confidentiality Agreement and not discuss what did or did not happen at the bargaining table. SPOG looks forward to continue talks with the City.”
A spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray declined to comment Wednesday.
While the vote delayed reaching a deal, one source familiar with the talks described the outcome as a temporary setback and remained optimistic an agreement ultimately will be reached.
The board’s action might not reflect the views of the entire membership, the source said.
City negotiators have been adamant about the need for reform, another source said.
At one point, there had been hope the current City Council would vote on a contract this month, one source said.
Now, with three new members joining the nine-member council next month, along with one recently sworn-in member, it will take time to get them up to speed on the talks.
As part of the consent decree, the city has adopted sweeping reforms, including new use-of-force and anti-bias policies and additional training.
The contract talks have been seen as a way to augment those changes as the federal monitor overseeing the court-ordered reforms considers modifications to the police department’s accountability systems.
If the city and guild reach an impasse, one option is binding arbitration.